Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara signed a contract that will take him through his 42nd birthday, and he's already anticipating the next one.
"I believe, myself, that I'm going to be playing beyond this contract," he said on Wednesday after agreeing to a one-year deal that will pay him at least $5-million.
"No matter how long you want to continue to play, you have to perform. You have to back up your status," he said. "So I know I need to go out there every night and do my job, perform and play hard and work hard and be a great example for my teammates. (The) rest of it, it will fall into place."
A five-time All-Star who was the league's best defenceman in 2009, Chara turned 41 this month but still leads the Bruins in time on ice with an average of 23 minutes per game. He has seven goals and 16 assists this season, his 20th in the NHL, and is the franchise's third-leading scorer for a defenceman, behind Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr.
"He's been a dominant player this year," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. "He takes all of the hard matchups still, doesn't shy away from any situations and has embraced the role that he's kind of emerged into. ... He's indicated that he wants to perform at a high, high level, he expects to perform at a high level, and he's backed that up."
Chara was in the final year of a seven-year, $45-million contract that reportedly paid him $4-million this year. His new deal guarantees him $5-million but also has incentives that could pay him $1.75-million more.
"I will not be surprised if we're sitting here (again)," Sweeney said, "because he's indicated he wants to continue to play."
Sweeney conceded that Chara had leverage if he went to the free agent market. But the 6-foot-9 Bruins captain said he wanted to stay in Boston and help develop young players such as Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork.
"I believe in this team," Chara said. "It's very exciting to be a part of this team. I think this team has a chance, and that's all you can ask for. The rest of it is up to us to do on the ice. So, yeah, that was my priority, to stay in Boston, to be a Boston Bruin."
Sweeney said Chara's influence isn't just on the younger players.
"It really is a ripple effect through our whole hockey club," the GM said. "Every player realizes the bar is set so high with a player that has accomplished as much as he has, yet he shows up every day. ... At times, when we're trying to get him off the ice, he wants to be on it more. So, I think the example for excellence starts with Zdeno."
Chara played in the Bruins' first 68 games this season before an unspecified injury that has sidelined him since March 13. Boston has also played without Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Rick Nash, Torey Krug, McAvoy and DeBrusk this month, but is just one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best record in the Eastern Conference heading into Thursday night's matchup.
"I'm so proud of the team, and what the guys have been able to do with so many guys being out of the lineup," Chara said. "Just a great indication that this team has a never-give-up attitude and willing to fight till the last whistle."